Colleagues enjoying a drink out

The importance of great working relationships

We all know that work isn’t just about completing the tasks at hand. It’s about developing good relationships with our colleagues. It’s collaborating and sharing ideas, connecting with customers and doing great things for both your own development and for the needs of the business. 

People aren’t robots. We don’t just turn on and work the 9-5, before switching off immediately for the rest of the day. Employees should be passionate about the work they do and driven by the people around them to succeed. That’s why it’s so important to develop a workplace culture that prioritises its people and encourages employees to connect and socialise with one another. 

The value of workplace friendships

Many of us have made lifelong friends throughout our careers. Having a friend to talk to throughout the working day is invaluable for most people. 

Studies show that around 35% of colleagues are classed as friends, with just 15% of these friendships continuing out of work hours. Half of these friendships form within weeks of meeting which shows the real value of instant connections with our colleagues. 

Research by LinkedIn found that 46% of people believe having friendships at work boosts overall happiness, while other research suggests great relationships at work improves the work we do, boosts productivity, enhances innovation and increases engagement.  

There’s a reason why we have friendships – because humans are social beings and appreciate real connection with others. Having these meaningful relationships with people at work (where most of us spend way over 35 hours of our time each week) can be critical to how we feel about our workplace. We all need a support system, and this is just as important in work as it is out of it. 

While companies can’t force workplace friendships, there are ways to encourage employees to foster relationships with each other. Social events both in and outside of work, networking groups and company communication tools such as Slack or Teams helps employees connect and build relationships. This is particularly important for workplaces with a number of different departments, many of which don’t overlap. There are potential friendships running throughout the business – employees just need the chance to meet new people. 

Are your family becoming your new colleagues? 

Many of us are still working from home as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. This means your work life and home life are potentially competing for limited resources, including your emotional resources that help you to manage your relationships. Suddenly you no longer have the in-office support of your colleagues, and may feel isolated from these important workplace friendships. And, to add to that, you’re around your family or partner 24/7 which could put strain on your relationship outside of work too. 

It’s important to keep work life and home life separate – even if you’re technically in the same physical space throughout the day. One of the biggest concerns around working from home with other members of your family is knowing when work begins and ends. It’s easy to start early, work late and even take longer breaks during the day to carry out “life admin” tasks if needed. It’s important to continue to stick to a routine, even if you’re working from home. Establish a consistent alarm time, breakfast and lunch times and when your latest cut off point is for working. This will keep you on track and make sure everyone in your household knows the routine – thus taking the stress out of potentially conflicting schedules. 

Top tips on managing your work/life balance

Suddenly you’re surrounded by a whole new set of colleagues – but they’re the exact same people you’re seeing every morning, every evening and at weekends too. Set boundaries and clear goals. Plan your working day together as you would an in-house team. If one of you has a call scheduled and needs a quiet space to concentrate, make sure the rest of your family is flexible and accommodating. 

Work in different spaces if possible, but take time to check in on one another as you would a colleague. This doesn’t mean a lengthy chat, but it’s always better to brainstorm an idea or air a concern rather than bottle things up throughout the day. 

You mustn’t forget your office colleagues too! Keep in touch with your work friends via video calls and messages. Sure, you’ll speak to them throughout the day on work-related matters, but don’t neglect to ask them how they are and have a chat outside of work too. Maintaining our friendships and relationships during the pandemic is so important, so don’t allow yourself to become isolated from the people you’re used to chatting with throughout the working week. 

Workplace relationships can impact the way we work

Blurring the lines between your professional and personal lines can impact your productivity and overall state of happiness. This great article on the subject includes thoughts from Professor Nicholas Bloom, a leading researcher into the benefits and potential pitfalls of working from home. It seems that, while it may seem on the surface that working from home boosts productivity, distractions from family life and day-to-day tasks, increased isolation and lack of collaboration / innovation can spell disaster for an employee’s productivity. 

A stressful home environment can easily impact your working life, too. If you’re unable to concentrate, surrounded by personal anxieties or simply have too much on your plate it makes it almost impossible to do your best. Ask yourself where your calm place is. If you’re working from home, where do you go to switch off from the working day, or to focus on your tasks without worrying about stressful situations happening in your personal life? Whatever your working environment, make sure you do have a calm place to utilise. That could be a separate space within your house, a local coffee shop or even a beauty spot you could drive to for an hour each day. Never allow yourself to become so overloaded you don’t take time out to relax and refresh your mind. 

Whether it’s idle chats with your coworker in your office, conflicts with a colleague at work or a discussion with your spouse about your dinner plans, our working relationships can hinder how well we perform. It’s more important than ever to look after our own manageable wellbeing. Improving our stress management, empathy and the way we communicate with one another is imperative to developing and maintaining meaningful connections. 

Managing conflict

In both office environments and while working from home, there’s bound to be a degree of conflict or stress which impacts relationships with the people around you.

Learn to manage your own stress and anxiety in the best way possible. Perhaps you need to talk about your concerns in order to find a solution, or maybe you manage stress best by removing yourself from the situation for a while. Many people often find mindfulness techniques helpful in calming the mind. 

When you’re working in close quarters with anyone, small irritations are bound to mount up. Again, setting boundaries and quiet times to allow yourself to refocus will help you to avoid these situations from escalating. Learn how to communicate your issues effectively. 

This includes focussing on events and certain behaviours, never citing personality traits or personal flaws. Listen to the other person’s viewpoints and repeat back key points to demonstrate you’ve understood their opinions clearly. Together, come to a resolution – a clear and practical plan to resolve conflict. However small the conflict may seam, it’s important to find a way to improve the situation. Make sure both parties follow through and work together to find a solution. Whether you’re at work with colleagues or working from home with your family, never let a situation escalate and always try to find a positive way to resolve an issue. This will help to avoid relationships and friendships from deteriorating, and may even strengthen them. 

How businesses can help

A healthy and happy employee is more likely to be productive, loyal to the business and engaged throughout the work day. So it’s safe to say that building great relationships and ensuring a healthy working environment is key to business success as well as personal happiness. 

Simply instructing people to ‘look after their own wellbeing’ and ‘support one another’ isn’t enough. The questions are endless: Where do I start? What is wellbeing? How can I better manage my stress? Where do I turn for support? 

That’s where external wellbeing providers (like us) come in. Businesses can’t be all things to all people. Senior leaders have enough on their plate, and not everyone can be a wellbeing expert. Our team knows how to help employees and empower them to better manage their own health and wellbeing and look after their relationships both in and outside of work. From management training through to employee seminars, giving employees practical tools and takeaways to help them be their best is an effective way to boost productivity and enhance workplace relationships. 

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